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Proposal for Prison at Westbury

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Tags: Westbury, Northern Prison, Corrections, Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Recidivism, Custodial Inspector

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I would like to make some points on the amended motion and foreshadow that we have an amendment to the motion ourselves and to the original motion.

Let us put on the record that we have had this conversation a number of times about the northern prison. This is cycling on with the same comments from the Labor Party and it is interesting that the focus is incredibly narrow. It is just a focus on the issue of the concerns the residents of Westbury have. Residents in Westbury would know, at least those who have contacted us and we have been in touch with, and if they have read the papers on this, that the Greens support their concerns. We listen and hear their concerns, because we agree with them that there should not be a prison anywhere in Westbury.

In fact our position is that there should not be a new northern prison in Tasmania. We have made the point on numerous occasions.

It is clear, by the Government's own measures, that they are failing on every single measure of success that they ought to have - what I consider they would hold up, if they were in opposition, as to what a successfully run corrections prison would look like. In the minister's capacity, she ought to understand that since the Liberals have been in Government in the last five and a half years, all the measures have been going backwards in terms of the successful outcomes for a prison.

The rate of reoffending - recidivism - has been going up and up, year on year. The rate of assaults in prisons has gone up and up, year on year, since the Liberals took over from the Greens' corrections minister, then minister Nick McKim, who had a huge intervention and cultural change in the prison because of his concerted effort to turn around the history of the Risdon Prison development complex, and the corrections system as it had been run under successive Labor and Liberal governments. Which was just continuing with an old punitive style, an old Tasmanian, 'comfortable old shoe' Port Arthur-style way of approaching rehabilitation.

Ms Archer - I think you should quote statistics. I would like to see the source.

Dr WOODRUFF - The minister should know the statistics, because at every Estimates we point them out to her and previous ministers. We point out how year on year they are getting worse. Do not waste our time in this short period.

Ms Archer - It is not because of Nick McKim.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, please.

Dr WOODRUFF - Focus on stuff which you know as a minister you are failing on, your own measures. Serious assaults between prisoners are going up and between prisoners and staff are going up. The rate of crime in the community is increasing, as the evidence from the police statistics from last year show us. Let us not waste our time coming up with the evidence of how the Liberals are failing in their mismanagement of corrections.

The worst failure, in their own measure, is the vast sums of money they are wasting on a failed approach to rehabilitation in Tasmania. Not only is the Risdon Prison Complex bursting at the seams because of the whole range of social policies which they have essentially gutted the supports for people in Tasmania, the poorest people. The people at risk are more likely to choose a path of crime. People who are homeless, people who are drug-affected, people who are desperate. We open the newspapers. We hear stories of people committing petty crimes, stealing for food. I read one just the other day. Again, another one: a person who was arrested by the police for stealing food. This is a disgusting situation. People are desperate in Tasmania. The Speaker knows it. We all know it. People are desperate.

This is something this Government takes colossal whole-of-government responsibility for - or being at the helm for five and a half years, for driving down the availability of affordable accommodation through not pressing pause on Airbnb, through not taking control of the rental situation, where there are levers that this Government can be pulling. They are choosing not to do it, day in, day out. Still choosing not to pull those levers. There is not a magic wand, but there is a lot more that can be done.

This is a Government that is scraping money out of community services and handing over so much of it to private contractors, to private consultants, to all the other organisations other than the charity organisations and the ones that need to be doing the good, systemic work. Like the Salvation Army, which had the money ripped out of them for the first three years under the REO program by this Liberal Government, who chose to take that pathetically small amount of money - some $260 000 a year, that was successfully rehousing people who left prison, successfully reducing the reoffending rate for the people that they worked with - to zero. That is an unheard-of rate.

Back to the situation with the northern prison in Tasmania. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, and I am quite confident $170 million is already out of date. It would cost tens of millions of dollars a year to run. Money that should be put into other places like the Launceston General Hospital, for example, in terms of the current costs.

What we have is a situation where, by their own measures, they are failing, and yet the Labor Party is jumping on the bandwagon to be tough on crime as well. Both parties committed to a northern prison. Building a northern prison is a dumb idea. It is dumb on every measure. It will not restore people. It does not provide an opportunity for rehabilitation. It does not put the money where we need it, and where other countries are putting it.

May I suggest that the Corrections minister, rather than going to Melbourne and looking there, why do not go to a best-practice country which actually does rehabilitation and restorative justice properly? Why not actually go and look at those places, rather than holding up an Australian prison as gold standard, because we know we are not? A country of convicts. Born as convicts, came out here in the hulls of ships as convicts, and guess what, we still have punitive approach, by and large. There are some shining exceptions, absolutely, but by and large, as a country, we are not 'best practice' worldwide, so what the minister needs to do is update herself.

The Greens have been onto this as an issue for a very long time. Clearly, we had a corrections minister, Nick McKim, but where I want to come to is the opportunity that is sitting there for people in the north, people in Westbury, people in other parts of the undisclosed other areas that were considered for the prison site.

What we should be doing is closing the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. It has been apparent now for such a long time that Ashley is failing the young people who come in there. They are not getting care, they are not getting rehabilitation, they are not getting the restorative justice that they need. We put out a policy in 2016, three years ago now, which detailed then what was already well known: that it is failing to give young offenders the chance that they deserve to exit the system more confident, more resilient and better equipped to make something positive of their lives. Instead, the recidivism rate for Ashley is very high. Some groups have suggested it could be as high as 80 per cent. I do not have the most recent figures, but that certainly was the case.

It is a well-acknowledged pathway to Risdon Prison, and the staffing model and the way it is being managed has led to violent interactions between staff and residents, and we know that some of those residents can be as young as 10 years old.

There are alternatives to Ashley Youth Detention Centre. They are very clear. The policy of the Greens is to close it, and to replace it with two smaller centres that are based on the Missouri model, which is a gold standard, and is proving that young people can be given the support, education and the compassionate care that they need.

Children who are there are because of their history of violence, because of the trauma that they suffer, and the custodial inspector makes that abundantly clear in his report: the children who enter Ashley are the children who have poorer mental and physical health, higher occurrence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, more family difficulties, poorer school attendance, and emotional and behavioural problems.

These are the children who are all likely to have experienced higher levels of either disabilities, abuse, neglect, substance misuse and mental health issues, often collectively - all of those things. It is no surprise that children who have been subjected - some of them their whole life - to those experiences, will act out, misbehave, have difficulty engaging in school activities, in social activities, in sitting and resting in a family environment because they have never known one other than one which is brutal and uncaring. It is very difficult to trust as a child when you have had really harsh experiences. What the Custodial Inspector's recently released report last week shows abundantly is that these children are not being supported in an environment that is appropriate for them.

I am so glad that the minister has walked into the House because he needs to hear about this heavily and disgracefully redacted report, hiding really important information about the failure of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre to ensure that consultants and contractors who come into the prison have had background checks and police checks, as is required in every other school system in Tasmania. Every volunteer organisation in Tasmania that works with or are in contact with children are required to have to these checks, but in the prison, people or children are kept all day sometimes in isolation behind closed doors, without screening, without records being kept properly, and sometimes without records being kept at all about experiences of isolation.

The Custodial Inspector pointed to reports of the incidence of use of force, multiple reports that appeared to be a copy and paste, so that there were not documented reports kept of incidences of the use of force, restraint and isolation. There are deeply concerning questions about the way our vulnerable children are being cared for in an institution which purports to be therapeutic. It is pretty clear from the Custodial Inspector's report that the cultural change demanded of Ashley Youth Detention Centre has never taken place. If it has taken place, and if good people have tried to bring that in, and I am sure that good people who work there have done their best, the culture has not changed. They are irredeemable, it is unable to be reformed and it should be closed.

That is what should happen and this is an opportunity for those 50 beds to be freed up to be used as the northern prison. It is an obvious way of dealing with two problems at the same time and finding a solution. At least it should be investigated. We are not pushing this, but it is obvious that Ashley must be closed. We wrote to the Commissioner for Children and Young People about our deep concerns after that heavily redacted report. We have asked questions of the minister in question time and he has given weasel word answers. Who redacted those sections of that report? Why did the independent Custodial Inspector's report come with such heavy redactions that pages of them are totally blacked out? It is important information which it seems was not even done properly because the information there can still be read so it is another level of incompetence.

But this was not about incompetence. Our question was how did it happen and who directed it? The minister needs to come into parliament tomorrow and explain why he misled the House, because Mr Richard Connock, the Custodial Inspector of Tasmania, released a statement just a couple of hours ago which says:

On completion of the custody inspection report relating to youth custodial services in Tasmania 2018, my office presented the report to the Department of Communities Tasmania and Minister Jaensch with no parts of the report redacted. At the request of Communities Tasmania in response to concerns about information contained in the report, specifically communicating security concerns, parts of the inspection of Youth Custodial Services in Tasmania 2018 were redacted. The redacted version as requested by Communities Tasmania was then presented to Minister Jaensch for tabling. As a result of events, the inspectorate will be taking a strong stance is relation to future redactions of reports. No redactions will be made unless the information is considered by the inspector to be a significant security risk.

Madam Speaker, that is a damning vindication of the concerns the Greens have had all along that this was about political interference. It is pretty clear that what was redacted from that report was not about security concerns alone, it was about risk to the minister. It was about risk to this Government and the disastrous mismanagement of Ashley Youth Detention Centre and the children in the care of this state. This minister is failing them by continuing to perpetuate that cruel and inhumane centre. It should be closed. That leaves 50 beds and they need to be considered as a possible place for a northern prison site.

To that end, coming to the amended motion we have from the Government -

Mr Jaensch - So you don't think there should be a northern prison?

Madam SPEAKER - Order, minister.

Mr Jaensch - I am being somewhat baited, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER - Sorry, but I am really over this incitement argument.

Dr WOODRUFF - we have an amendment to that.

Ms Archer - Sorry, it is Labor's motion. We moved an amendment just to correct it.

Dr WOODRUFF - Coming to the amendment the Government has moved, I move -

That the motion be amended by removing all words after paragraph (1) and inserting a new paragraph (2).

(2) Calls on the Government to consult broadly on the prospect of closing Ashley Youth Detention Centre and repurposing the 50 beds to become the northern adult prison and establishing two new purpose facilities for youth detention.

Although we have no concerns with the first three paragraphs of Labor's motion, given the Liberals have moved an amendment it falls to us to amend their motion. For simplicity, that is what we have done. This makes it very clear that there is no place for messing around with a consultation process for another site. The Labor Party, along with the Liberal Party, continue to want to push the building of a brand-new northern prison which would be a disastrous waste of money. They are both in agreement on this. We do not agree that we should be canvassing all the top possible places in the north of the state because we do not agree with the premise that we should be spending money on a new-build northern prison facility. Since everybody who has looked at the evidence and who understands what really happens at Ashley Youth Detention Centre and how it is failing in models of rehabilitation and restorative justice for the young people there.

That model has failed and those children need to be moved out immediately to appropriate premises that are designed for their care, one in the north and one in the south. Young children at the age of 10 should not be so far away from their families or their support networks.

This would leave that building untenanted and there are 50 bed spaces, as I understand it, as listed in the Custodial Inspector's report, that would become vacant. That is the proposal that we have before us. I hope members find it in their hearts to step off political platforms and to look at the way things are and do something good for children and all adult prisoners in the state.